Interview with Edgar Wright, Director of The World’s End

To cap off coverage of the epic conclusion to the Cornetto Trilogy, we sit down with Edgar Wright, the filmmaker behind geek classics like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim.

Even if you’re not a fan, there’s no question that Edgar Wright is a one of a kind filmmaker with a distinct voice like no other. Every second of his films are jam packed with subtle nuisances of beauty crafted ever so carefully to entertain all those in attendance. Sitting down to talk about his new film, The World’s End, Edgar let’s loose on the subject of beer, pubs and twins. Enjoy! Can you talk about the creative process in making this movie? I understand you came up with this when you were 21… Edgar Wright: Well part of it. Part of it, I see. Well, I also noticed the different names of the pubs set up the pace and the subplots of this whole production; can you talk about this a bit? Well the thing I did when I was 21 was I wrote a script about teenagers on a pub crawl—only like the first five minutes of this film—the 1990 bit resembles the script I wrote when I was 21. In fact, the film I wrote when I was 21 was more in the vein of like, an American Graffiti or Superbad; something like that with teens drinking. It wasn’t until way later after Hot Fuzz, I was thinking about that script that I had done nothing with and thought, “Oh, maybe there’s something in the idea of adults trying to recreate their teenage years.” So that idea came after Hot Fuzz. I was literally on a plane with Simon and I was thinking about it and I let it out, “I think I got an idea for the cinema,” and then we started talking about that. In terms of the pub names, all the pub names are real. The World’s End is a pub in North London. Actually there are many World’s Ends; there’s at least four in London, and many across the country. There’s one particular one that Simon and I used to meet in before we’d go to the cinema, and I always thought it was a weird thing to say, “Oh, I’ll see you at The World’s End.” [Laughter] “I’ll meet you at the World’s End” just struck me as a weird thing to say. So I thought, “Hmm, bag that for later.” The other thing is, we always knew once we had the plot of the movie, when we knew it was going to be 12 pubs, we needed one that would be The World’s End, because we had a man who was searching for The World’s End and gets his wish, a thousand fold.  After we did have the plot and everything, we went back and named the pubs after something that happened in the movie, but they are all real pub names. So we looked at the plot of the movie and we had a book of real pub names and say, “Okay, the one with the fight, that’s Crossed Hands. The one where he gets banned, he’s The Famous Cock.” [Laughter] “The one with the sirens, that’s The Mermaid.” The other thing I found funny about English pub names is that they always have these fancy kinds of names that seem steeped in history for what are usually completely shitty bars.  Some of them have some historical significance, like The First Post might have been the first post office, but usually it’s like a pretty mundane bar with a name like, The King’s Head. Yeah, I have some family in England I always notice the pub names. There are some crazy names. We liked the idea of pub signs and thinking about them like tarot cards. Speaking about 1990, I noticed there was a great joke in the background of the soundtrack, that Sunday’s song “Here’s Where the Story Ends.” Did you sit and carefully bring a lot of that ‘90s era music to the table? Yeah, the whole soundtrack. When we were writing the film, one of the first things we did was make this playlist of songs from about 1988-1993, and it was about 200 tracks long. We just used to listen to it on shuffle and then very quickly the songs that really meant something story wise would all come to the top. Even Gary King’s [Simon Pegg] anthems would be hedonistic party anthems like, “Loaded,” “Unfree,” “Step On,” by the Happy Mondays; those kinds of songs were the ones he would live by. All of the songs had something to do with it, even the song titles are totally on the nose. Like “Fool’s Gold,” by The Stone Roses is over the scene where he’s looking over at someone else’s beer. He’s going to drink someone else’s beer, which is fool’s gold [Laughter]. It literally says fool’s gold as he’s looking at the beer saying, “you are fool if you’re going to drink someone else’s lager.’ I always though about the song; what the fool’s gold could be, and so I just though it could be lager. What is your fascination with science fiction? In the way that this film is about nostalgia and looking back, a lot of the sci-fi movies that I would watch on TV when I was very small, before I even knew what the word “genre” meant, even before I could say, “oh yeah, I’m a science fiction fan,” were the films I would gravitate towards. When I was growing up, and not so much anymore sadly, these films would be on network TV in the afternoon or late at night. Films like Invaders From Mars, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, It Came From Outer Space. Those films from the 50s and 60s, especially the really paranoid ones: Village of the Damned, then on TV with things like Doctor Who The Avengers, The Prisoner, always the really extremely paranoid science fiction stories would always be on. Since I came from a small town, any of the ones that were about small towns used to really speak to me, specifically the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I like the one in San Francisco as well, but the original; anything about a small town would really stick with me because I was from a small town. In a way, how that then factored into the movie wasn’t like we wrote half an hour of a pub crawl script and then picked a sci-fi story out of a hat. It was literally an expression of our feelings about the town. There’s a scene in the film when they start to realize that something otherworldly is going on, and you see that Gary is sort of smiling as he’s explaining it. The reason he’s smiling is because he can accept more readily that there might be an invasion than he can the idea that he’s old and the town doesn’t remember him or that maybe the town isn’t all it was cracked up to be in the first place. He’d rather leap to the more fantastical thing. In the very same way, with me and Simon both being from very small towns, having that bittersweet experience, it’s almost like a coping strategy. I used to go back to my home town and I think it’s the same for anyone who has had that experience, you can’t stop the march of time and the town is going to change without you, architecturally, socially; you’ve been the teenager going to the bars and you come back and maybe someone remembers you, but other members of the public don’t remember you at all. I remember saying to my friend a very long time ago, “It’s so weird going back, it’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, like the whole town changed the minute you left.  Continuing on that, Nick and Simon were talking about the theme of the loss of identity throughout the movie. What was it about that theme that made you want to explore it further? I think it’s something we had in all of the movies. They’re all movies about growing up. In Shaun of the Dead, it’s all about Shaun having to grow up and take responsibility. In Hot Fuzz, it’s more about Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman meeting somewhere in the middle, because one of them needs to grow up and the other needs to come down, or if you will, he needs to become more of a human being and less like a robot. In this one, it’s sort of more of a shock and more of a horror story that four of them have grown up and seemingly conformed in Gary’s eyes, and he wants to be the high school rebel forever, and you cannot be that rebel forever unless your willing to go completely off the grid. We draw very sharp lines. The reality of it is that Nick, Simon and myself live happily in the middle where we’re actually happy with our Starbucks and Apple Macs and stuff, but in the movie, there’s a sharp line asking, “Are you going to be with them, or are you going to be with the other guy.” You’re either going to be with Gary King, or you’re going to be with the robots. Along the lines with the science fiction vibe of all three of the movies, I don’t know how you do it, but every single time the creepiness of the infected, or the alien, or the robot appears, they’re always standing and watching in a very specific creepy way… Well in this one particularly, we went a little further where we actually had a choreographer, choreographing all of the crowds. If you notice, there’s that scene where The Door’s “Whiskey Bar” is playing that whole town is walking in time with the song. When they’re running down the street, they’re all running in time. If you actually look at the raw footage you’ll actually hear the choreographer going, “5, 6, 7, 8…left, right, left, right.” So they’re all in time, and I was thinking they should be all syncopated because they’re all supposed to be one man and it would be extremely creepy if they acted like that. Then when you’ve got like, 80 people doing it, it’s really creepy. With all your films really, everything is so meticulous, brilliantly so. I’m sure there are things we’ve never heard you guys speak about that everyone is still missing in all of the films. Is the creative process on all levels the same for you? Do you put the same amount of time and thought into every visual that you do into writing the actual story? I think it’s all about just being really prepared. If it’s going to be meticulous, you can’t just come to work and make that stuff up. This movie took 12 weeks to shoot, which might seem like a long time, but when I mention it to other directors, for instance, last night we had a screening and Darren Aronofsky came, and he said, “How the fuck did you make that in 12 weeks? That’s insane.” So when you only have 12 weeks to shoot something, you have to have everything planned. All the actors are rehearsed, you rehearse it like a play, you rehearse all of the fight scenes, you have the choreographer working with all of the extras. So when you come to set, there’s no discussion of like, “So, what are we doing? What’s happening in this scene? How is this going to work?” Everyone knows what they are doing. So the only thing you can do is to just attack everything on every level with military precision. Everything is storyboarded. There are videos of the choreography and fights. Some directors work in a completely different way. Some directors come to work and just find the scene, like Robert Altman, that was his kind of style, and he did it brilliantly. He could find magic in improvisation. Paul Greengrass is the same, but I approach it more like we know exactly what we need to do. These are the shots, this is how we are going to do the scene, and you rehearse it with the actors, so all of that discussion of what the scene is about, what’s the theme, what’s the motivation, all of that has been sorted out in the rehearsal room and on set, we are going to shoot what we rehearsed. It’s just the way I work I guess. But it’s also the nature of never having enough time to pull off what we’re trying to do. As a director you had sort of a British dream cast; what was is it like to have all those people working on your film? It was great. The only two people I hadn’t worked with before from the main cast was Eddie [Marsan] and Ros [Rosamund Pike], but I am a huge fan of Eddie, particularly from his Mike Leigh films, and both Paddy [Consindine] and Eddie have done a string of very dark parts, and they’re both very funny people. So writing the roles with them in mind was interesting. Particularly Eddie in Paddy’s film Tyrannosaur, Eddie Marsan is terrifying in that movie. I went to see a Q and A for the premiere of Tyrannosaur, and Eddie Marsan said something that made me laugh. Someone said, “Eddie, you’ve played a lot of dark parts…” and he says, “I realize I’ve never had consensual sex onscreen,” [Laughter]. As soon as he said that I thought, “I’m going to give you the most loveable part in this film,” people are going to see the softer side of Eddie Marsan. Then you have Paddy Consindine who usually plays very dark parts, Hot Fuzz aside… Submarine  …Yeah, and Submarine too. Actually, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee, I don’t think it was ever released here, but it is so funny. Paddy is like the funniest man who normally has this reputation of being this Daniel Day-Lewis type, but he’s the goofiest, funniest man. For me, the thing is Paddy is essentially the romantic lead, and seeing someone really strong like Paddy getting all soppy like a 14-year-old is sort of really funny to me.  Going off of that, because there are so many different genres that are put together so well here, what’s it like crafting these actors and directing them to do so many fight scenes and big things, even though it’s more of a comedy movie? I think the actors have a blast doing it. The thing that I was really lucky in having was everyone wanting to do everything. You have six actors who are really gung-ho. Brad Allen, who was the choreographer did Scott Pilgrim with me, and the actors had seen that. So they see the 20-year-old actors in Scott Pilgrim and say, “We want to do that! Even though we’re 20 years older than Michael Cera, we want to do that.” They really threw themselves into it and Brad and Damien Walters who were the choreographers, they really create an atmosphere where actors really want to impress the stunt men. What’s really good, you probably noticed in the movie that these fight scenes are all done in uninterrupted takes. That would never work if these actors couldn’t pull it off. When you see action scenes and you kind of say, “Oh, the camera work is all jittery, I can’t tell what’s going on,” the reason that that happens is because they’re trying to hide a stunt double or the actor can’t really do it or the actor doesn’t want to do it. There are some action movie actors who are like, “I’ll do this, and this, and everything else is for the stunt double.” In this case, the actors wanted to do as much as they can. For instance, in that bathroom scene, there are only four shots in the whole thing that are stunt doubles. It’s all Nick, Simon, Paddy, Eddie, and Martin and those kids who are doing everything. The kids they’re fighting didn’t have doubles because they’re all gymnasts and marital artists. It made it incredibly exciting viscerally to do those scenes. Same thing in the scene with the twins. The twins are not stunt women, they’re not actresses; they were dancers. We cast them because dancers can learn choreography, and they were absolutely in to do everything else. “You’ve never done a fight scene before, you’ve never acted before; we’re going to train you up.” And they’re amazing. They did a great, great job. It almost takes me back to when I used to make amateur films. I never used to work with actors. It’s an exciting thing to get performances out of non-actors. So will we see all these same kind of things when Ant-Man comes along? That same Edgar Wright nature? Maybe not specifically identical twins [Laughter]. I’m rewriting the script to get identical twins into it. All though, weirdly, I have had identical twins in every single thing I’ve done. Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Don’t, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim, and in this one, there are two sets of identical twins. Why is that? You know what, I love symmetry. [Laughter] That’s a good answer. I’m very OCD and I love symmetry, so twins for me are just the ultimate. There’s no bad shot with identical twins. So if you were to open a pub yourself, what would you call it? You win the award for the question I’ve never been asked on the entire press tour, that’s amazing. Wow, that’s a good one, let me think. God, I have to come up with something good now. Damn it, you can’t rush me, I want to come up with something good. The Twin Kegs? Haha, let me think about this for a second. Simon mentioned you only made it through four pubs when you tried to recreate your own teenage pub crawl. When I was 19, I got through six! But yeah, when I, Simon and Nick tried to do it, I only got through four. What happened is I am a complete lightweight and I can’t take alcohol. I can’t take my drink; it’s as simple as that. It’s not like a rare medical condition. I just have eyes bigger than my stomach. So yeah, this is where the film goes into pure fantasy, the idea that I could have twelve beers. If I was in the movie, the film would stop at the half hour mark because I would be asleep. What actors or filmmakers would you want to work with in the future? So many, it’s actually a very difficult question. Clint Eastwood. It’s already too late, he’s retired, but he’s one of my absolute screen heroes. What about the name of that pub? Oh yeah, how about, The Lightweight and Blackout. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!